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New Faculty Join Pitt Electrical and Computer Engineering Department

PITTSBURGH (September 13, 2016) … The Swanson School of Engineering Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering will add three new professors to its faculty starting this fall. Robert Kerestes and Feng Xiong will join the department as assistant professors, and Brandon Grainger will join as a research assistant professor.

“The ECE department at Pitt is growing, providing us with opportunities to attract new faculty with the potential to truly make an impact on departmental research and academics,” said Mahmoud El Nokali, interim department chair of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Pitt. “We are excited to have Robert, Feng and Brandon joining the team.”

Robert Kerestes, Assistant Professor
Robert Kerestes was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He received his BS (2010), MS (2012) and PhD (2014) from the University of Pittsburgh—all with a concentration in electric power systems. Kerestes’s research areas of interest are in electric power systems, in particular electric machinery and electromagnetics. He was a mathematical modeler for Emerson Process Management, working on electric power applications for Emerson’s Ovation Embedded Simulator. He has also taught as an adjunct professor at the University of Pittsburgh since 2014. Kerestes served in the United States Navy from 1998-2002 on active duty and from 2002-2006 in the U.S. Naval Reserves.

At the University of Pittsburgh, Kerestes will focus on improving teaching methods for electrical and computer engineering curriculum. He will focus on effective measurement of student performance, which may diverge from the classical approach, as well as the effect of technology and how it can be used to reach students in ways that were not previously possible. Kerestes will also be trying to develop methods in which teachers can adequately assess the effectiveness of their own classroom experiments.

Feng Xiong, Assistant Professor
Feng Xiong received his PhD (2014) and MS (2010) in electrical and computer engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and his bachelor of engineering degree (2008) from the National University of Singapore. Prior to joining Pitt, Xiong was a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Electrical Engineering at Stanford University.

In today’s big-data era, trillions of sensors will connect every aspect of our lives to the Internet, constantly producing and processing an overwhelming amount of data. Xiong is looking for novel materials for energy-efficient transistor and memory solutions with on-chip thermal management and 3D integration. Specifically, Xiong is working on (1) building wafer-scale energy-efficient 2D transistors, tackling challenges in synthesis, assembly and optimization; (2) characterizing nanoscale thermal transport in 2D materials, maximizing thermoelectric efficiency through heterogeneous stacking and intercalations for energy harvesting and developing on-chip thermal solutions; (3) achieving 3D integration of novel low-power memory (resistive and phase change memory) with logic, building energy-efficient flexible memory devices and exploring alternative memory structure with intercalation in layered 2D materials.

Xiong received several awards including the Stanford Nano- and Quantum Science and Engineering Postdoctoral Fellowship, Materials Research Society (MRS) Graduate Student Gold Award, Beckman Institute Graduate Fellowship and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company Outstanding Student Research Gold Award. He is a member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and MRS.

Brandon Grainger, Research Assistant Professor

Brandon M. Grainger holds a PhD in electrical engineering focusing on megawatt scale power electronic systems and controls with applications in microgrids and medium voltage DC system design. He earned his MS in electrical engineering and BS in mechanical engineering with a minor in electrical engineering. All of his degrees are from the University of Pittsburgh.

Grainger was one of the first endowed Richard K. Mellon graduate student fellows through the Center for Energy at Pitt. His research concentrations and interests are in all classes of power electronic technology including topology design, semiconductor evaluation (currently Gallium Nitride transistors), advanced controller design, power electronic applications for microgrids, HVDC and FACTS and circuit reliability. He has contributed to more than 30 articles in the general area of electric power engineering, all of which have been published through IEEE.

Grainger’s past work and internship experience include positions with ABB Corporate Research in Raleigh, NC; ANSYS Inc. in Southpointe, PA; Mitsubishi Electric in Warrendale, PA; Siemens Industry in New Kensington, PA; and volunteer work at Eaton’s Power Systems Experience Center in Warrendale, PA, where he designed electrical demonstrations. He is a member of the IEEE Power and Energy Society (PES), IEEE Power Electronics Society (PELS) and Industrial Electronics Society (IES) and is an annual reviewer of various power electronic conferences and transaction articles. Grainger serves as the IEEE Pittsburgh PELS Chapter Chair, which won chapter of the year in 2015 for its section. He is also an ambassador for the National Academy of Sciences and Engineering in the Pittsburgh region.

With extensive experience with on-land electric grid applications, Grainger plans to extend his knowledge and apply his expertise to electric power system design for military applications while at Pitt. Combat power systems (like electric ships) are moving to an all DC based design operating at medium voltage (1kV to 35kV). These DC architectures require clean power, uninterruptible power supply, distributed power supply and large power generation resources in a localized and constrained footprint. Hence, new power conversion designs (particularly DC/DC conversion), methods for interrupting DC current, identifying system short circuits, equipment regulation procedures and stability analysis are all concerns worthy of further investigation.


Steve Jacobs, former assistant professor in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, is promoted to associate professor this fall.


Author: Author: Matt Cichowicz, Communications Writer

Contact: Paul Kovach